A noblewoman takes her twin’s place in marriage to a Norman invader in this “absorbing, sexually charged” medieval romance from a USA Today –bestselling author ( Publishers Weekly ). All her life, Linnea de Valcourt has been reviled as the cursed daughter of Maidenstone Castle. The younger of identical twins, she narrowly escaped a death sentence at birth. To save her beloved sister from marriage to the savage Norman conqueror who has laid siege to their castle, Linnea will sacrifice her own happiness by engaging in a dangerous deception. Years of exile have driven Axton de la Manse to the brink of despair. Now he will have his vengeance by taking his enemy’s most prized possession, his eldest daughter. Once they wed and she is carrying the de la Manse heir, no one can dispute his claim to Maidenstone, the stronghold stolen from his family. That is, until the unthinkable happens: He loses his heart to his bride, whose own desires ignite a fierce longing deep within Axton. Is their growing love enough to overcome the lies and treachery that could drive them apart? With enthralling characters, passionate romance, and spellbinding adventure, the award-winning author of The Matchmaker and The Bridemaker “demonstrates that she is a master of her craft” ( RT Book Reviews ).
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Rexanne Becnel is the author of more than twenty historical romance and contemporary mainstream novels, many of which appeared on the USA Today bestseller list. With the publication of her first novel, My Gallant Enemy , Becnel won the Waldenbooks Award for Best First-Time Romance Author and the Romantic Times Award for Best Medieval Romance by a New Author. While growing up, Becnel lived for a time in Germany and England, where she became fascinated by medieval history. After studying architecture at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, she worked as a building inspector for the Vieux Carré Commission, the agency of the City of New Orleans charged with protecting and preserving the distinct architectural and historic character of the French Quarter. Becnel lives in New Orleans with her husband and two children.
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The Maiden Bride
By Rexanne Becnel
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 by Rexanne Becnel
All rights reserved.
Maidenstone Castle, Wessex
April 1153 A.D.
She knew the castle could not hold out for long. Too many soldiers came over the hill. They poured in an unending wave, following the fluttering red pennant that depicted two black bears battling.
But in spite of that, Linnea de Valcourt spat defiantly past the solid stone crenellation, denying the frightening possibility of anything but a quick, decisive victory for the castle.
"The fools. They but waste their time — and their blood," she stated, with a confidence she did not entirely feel. "Henry of Anjou cannot take Maidenstone Castle, nor any of Wessex. Nor any part of Britain," she added with youthful defiance.
"They've already taken much of Wessex," Sir Hugh, her father's captain of the guard, muttered as he glared at the never-ending horde.
"But they won't take Maidenstone," Linnea vowed. Then her bravery wilted a bit, and in a more hesitant voice she added, "Will they?"
Sir Hugh did not take his eyes from the army that almost reached the village now. A steady stream of panicked village folk fled toward the castle, carrying their children and what few provisions they were able to gather in the scant hour since the alarm had sounded. Linnea saw his jaw tighten and flex, once, twice, and then again.
"Raise the bridge," he growled at the soldier who stood at his side.
"No! Not yet!" Linnea cried without thinking.
But Sir Hugh's murderous glare cut off any further protest from her. "Get yourself away from my battlements, lest ye curse what little there is left of us!" When the censorious gaze of the other soldiers around him joined Sir Hugh's, Linnea fell back a pace, shattered by his words.
Sir Hugh must have spied the stricken look on her face, for his harsh features softened ever so slightly. "Go join your sister in the hall," he ordered gruffly. "And tell your grandmother I'll send word as soon as there's anything to tell."
Linnea nodded, gathering her plain plunkett cloth skirt in one hand as she turned to the steep steps that led down into the bailey. He hadn't meant it about the curse. She knew he hadn't. It was only that he was tense due to the attack. Sir Hugh had never been like so many of the others, staring at her with wary, suspicious eyes. He'd never crossed himself for protection if she came upon him unexpectedly. It was just this damnable war between King Stephen and that Norman usurper, Henry Plantagenet. First his mother, Matilda, now the son. Why couldn't these warring magnates leave the people of Wessex in peace? she wondered, even as the grate of gears and creaking of the chains signaled the slow rise of Maidenstone's newly constructed bridge.
A cry from the villagers stranded outside the walls rose up, a frightened, desperate wail accompanied by the first sting of acrid smoke on the wind. They were firing the village, she realized in alarm. The barbarians were putting the innocent village of Maidenstone to the torch!
"I curse you all to hell!" Linnea muttered as both fury and abject sorrow washed over her. "I curse you to hell, you of the black bear pennant!" she cried, wishing more than anything that she had the abilities so many attributed to her. For if she could curse all those invaders to hell, she would do so without a qualm. She would send them to burn in the fires of eternity, and thereby save her home and her people.
And her people would love her for it, she thought, imagining for one fanciful moment how things would change if she could only do something truly noble to prove herself to the people of Maidenstone —
"Get out of the way," a crude voice demanded, bringing her abruptly back to reality.
She hurried down the last flight of steps, one of the castle guards hot on her heels. He'd not mistaken her for her sister Beatrix, but then, Linnea's plain garb had always set her apart from Beatrix in her finer garments. Besides, Beatrix would not be outside in the midst of battle preparations. Only Linnea would do something so foolish. Beatrix would be in the hall, settling the frightened villagers, or organizing the kitchen, or some other necessary domestic task.
In the bailey Linnea paused, not certain where to position herself during the coming siege. Across the now crowded yard she spied her grandmother standing on the top step that led into the great hall, leaning on her walking stick with one hand while she waved orders with her other.
She would not go to the hall, Linnea decided on the instant. Her grandmother, the Lady Harriet, could barely stand the sight of her younger granddaughter under the best of conditions. Today her acid temper would not be bound by the normal limits good manners dictated.
Then Linnea heard her father's hoarse shout, and after searching the seething throng a few frantic minutes, she spied him striding along the east parapet walk, calling orders and gesturing to his men as he assumed control of the castle's defenses.
He was dressed in a leather jack today, emblazoned with the Valcourt family crest, a blue field with a golden griffin rampant. A short blue cape fluttered behind him and a heavy gold-encrusted belt spanned his generous girth, giving him the look of a powerful knight, much as legend made him. A man unparalleled in bravery, cunning, and strength. If she saw him as a man given more to food and drink than to battles and strategy, it was only because during the past ten years that was the only thing required of him. She did not remember the years when he'd fought for Stephen, helping him wrest the crown from the old king's bastard daughter. She'd heard the stories of his daring, however, stories told and retold in the long evenings of winter. How he'd been knighted by King Stephen himself, though long before Stephen had become a king. And how he'd fought in Stephen's elite guard. How he'd been rewarded for his loyalty with marriage to Stephen's second cousin, Ella, the most beautiful woman in the land. How he'd taken Maidenstone Castle in the days just after the old king's death and held it firm against every one of Matilda's attempts to win it and the crown back from Stephen.
Today, however, it seemed Matilda's son and his followers were making a more forceful attempt than ever.
Linnea shrank back into a sheltered corner, where one wall of the stone kitchen met the palisades fence that surrounded the herb garden. The bailey was thronged with people and dogs and nervous cattle. Above the mad crowd a churning cloud of dust eddied, choking her throat and making her eyes tear. But she nevertheless kept her gaze locked upon her father.
If only Maynard were here, she fretted, as her father limped to Sir Hugh's side and they stared together out toward the fast-approaching enemy. Her brother was a cruel and obnoxious oaf at times, but he was as brave as ever his father had been, and a knight and warrior of considerable skill.
Maynard was in Melcombe Regis, however, with the bulk of their army of knights, archers, and foot soldiers. Maidenstone was defended only by the castle guard and what villagers had made it safely inside before the drawbridge had been raised.
A shiver of fear shimmied down Linnea's spine and she hugged herself. Maidenstone could not hope to win, she thought once more, and it was a terrible thing to admit. They could not hope to win; therefore they must expect to lose.
At once she shoved away from her hiding place. It did not matter about her grandmother's temper any longer. Linnea needed to find Beatrix, to be there with her in the event the unthinkable occurred. Beatrix would need someone to protect her and, as always, Linnea would do anything for her beloved sister.
Hiking her coarse skirt up in a manner far from ladylike, she dashed across the bailey, dodging frantic villagers and frightened children. The smell of smoke was stronger now, as was the wailing from both inside and outside the besieged castle.
Surely the world was coming to an end, she feared as the panic and confusion around her began to seep into her too. Surely this was hell and the black bear outside their door was the devil himself come to call.
Axton de la Manse sat astride his mighty destrier just beyond the village gates, staring up at Maidenstone's sheer stone walls. Black plumes of billowing smoke turned the sky gray and made his boyhood home a perfect picture of hell. But it was only barns and outbuildings he'd fired, and an occasional shop or storage building in a strategic location. Still, as the acrid stench curled up and drifted from the village to swirl around the castle walls, it was enough to terrorize the hapless villagers — and enough to strike fear into the heart of Edgar de Valcourt and his family of two-legged leeches.
"The villagers are trapped between us and the moat," said Sir Reynold, Axton's captain and most trusted man.
Axton nodded. "Keep the fires going until the bridge is lowered and the gate raised. And bring de Valcourt's son to the front."
"He has fainted and is barely alive."
Axton shrugged. "He fought a good fight — for a de Valcourt. If he should die, so be it. But it will not alter the outcome of this day's work." That he felt a savage satisfaction at having struck the disabling blow to Maynard de Valcourt's arm did not have to be stated. Axton and Reynold had fought many a battle together and they'd lost many a valiant compatriot in the process. But that was a knight's lot in life. To fight a good fight and then die from your wounds on the field of honor was as much as Axton and Reynold had ever expected of life. As much as they'd ever hoped for.
Now he wanted to live to a ripe old age, to put away the tempered steel of sword and dagger and the forged iron of mace and spear. He meant to win back his home this day, and though there would always be service to give his king — or scutage to pay in its place — he meant to settle down at Maidenstone, to bring what little remained of his family back to this place, and to regain everything they'd lost so many years ago.
Only they could not regain everything.
His leather-clad fist tightened on the reins and his warhorse danced in a nervous circle. Christ's blood, but his father should be here at this moment, to savor the victory that had been so long in coming. Likewise his brothers William and Yves deserved to be here to share in this triumph.
But they weren't here. He was the only man left in the family. That meant he must savor the victory for all of them, he told himself as the cart bearing the younger de Valcourt rumbled forward. Four times over he would savor his victory this day, once for himself and three times for his father and older brothers. Four times the drinking. Four times the feasting. Four times the wenching.
He smiled grimly at that. He'd been weeks without a woman. If he weren't so accursedly weary he'd call for four wenches in his bed tonight, all at one time.
He stared up at the castle walls. Soon they must surrender. It was just a matter of time, and that knowledge banished all thoughts of having any women in his bed. The time was at hand. His victory — and de Valcourt's fall.
"He has Sir Maynard —"
"He holds the young lord —"
"Sir Maynard has fallen into the enemy's vile clutches —"
The rumor spread from ramparts to bailey and through the terrified crush into the hall where Lady Harriet barked orders from her place on the raised platform nearest the hearth. Sir Maynard was wounded — dying, being tortured — just outside the moat; lying in an open cart for all to witness his downfall.
They had only to lower the drawbridge — and surrender the castle — to regain their hero and be allowed to tend his wounds.
Linnea heard the rumors just as the others did, and her reaction was much the same. What little hope she'd had disappeared entirely. Without her brother and his army, there was no chance they might hold back the ravenous horde beyond the outer walls of the castle. As long as he was fighting somewhere on King Stephen's behalf there had been a chance, slim though it might be, that Sir Maynard might somehow hear of their plight and come to their aid. They could have held out against a siege for a couple of weeks at least, if they'd had reason to hope.
But now their last hope lay crushed and broken in a cart outside the wall.
"Poor Maynard," Linnea whispered as she clutched her sister's hand.
"We must pray for him," Beatrix whispered back, and dutifully Linnea followed her lead, bowing her head and praying for the older brother who'd never paid either of them the slightest attention, except when he wanted to blame his "accursed sister," as he'd called Linnea, for something that was actually his fault. He'd been very good at that as a child, and she'd suffered many a beating or other punishment for something he'd accused her of.
But that didn't matter today, Linnea reminded herself as she tried to concentrate on the litany of softly worded entreaties Beatrix directed heavenward. "Please, God, save our beloved brother. Save our home and family and people from the vile beast who assaults us now. Please, God, help us, your humble servants, in our hour of need ..."
It went on and on, as did a hundred other similar pleadings, filling the tapestry-hung hall with a rising and falling hum until the double doors flew open with a crash. Then Sir Edgar himself staggered into the packed chamber and the prayers fell away to an absolute silence.
Had Linnea been frightened before? As she stared round-eyed at her father's haggard expression, her fears increased tenfold. She'd seen her father angry; she'd seen him heartbroken, too. She'd seen him cruel and unbending, and she'd seen him recklessly drunk. But she'd never before seen him afraid. Never.
And she'd never seen him defeated.
"Clear a path for my lord. Clear a path!" the seneschal, Sir John, shouted, shoving and kicking people aside so that Sir Edgar could make his way to his family on the raised dais. A pall hung over the place, a chill broken only by the thrum of fear from beyond the solid walls of the stout keep.
Linnea and Beatrix clung together, just to the left of their grandmother. She still stood, leaning on her cane, as she watched her only son's faltering approach.
For a moment Linnea was actually able to admire her grandmother. Lady Harriet had tormented her all her life. Linnea had never received a kind look or word from her father's mother. Lady Harriet had lavished all her affection upon Maynard, and to a lesser degree, Beatrix. But there had been no affection whatsoever for Linnea.
Still, Lady Harriet's steely temperament stood her in good stead this day. As mother and son faced one another, it was clear to Linnea who was the stronger of the pair.
"They have him ... Maynard," Sir Edgar confirmed in a whisper laced with agony. "They have him and he is broken. ... Carried in a pig cart for all to see —"
His voice caught, and he covered his eyes with a hand that shook. Linnea's insides turned to pudding in the face of her father's emotional display and tears burned in her eyes.
"Poor Maynard. Poor Maynard," Beatrix repeated, clutching Linnea's hand with painful intensity.
It was Lady Harriet who stood tall and strong. "Who is this vile emissary from Henry's decadent court that doth assault us in our own home? Who is this spawn of Satan that wouldst kill our sons and rape our daughters?"
Sir Edgar's hand fell away from his eyes and he lifted his haggard features to meet his mother's outraged face. Linnea strained forward to hear, not that she expected to know the name of their attacker. She and Beatrix were kept ignorant of all but the most benign aspects of any matters that dealt with politics. Anything Linnea knew, she'd gleaned from the castle folk or those villagers she'd come to meet during the few times she managed to steal away from her chores.
So when Sir Edgar said, "It is de la Manse — de la Manse — I saw the pennants," she did not at once recognize the name.
"De la Manse!" Her grandmother's eyes grew large and her gnarled fingers tightened on her carved walking stick. "De la Manse," she repeated, spitting the name out as if it were a curse. Only then did Linnea recall where she'd heard it before.
De la Manse. The family that had made their home at Maidenstone Castle before King Stephen bestowed it upon her father for his loyalty. De la Manse, the family that had supported Matilda's claim to the throne all these years while living in Normandy. The family that would, no doubt, fight more viciously than any other family to reclaim Maidenstone for themselves.
"De la Manse." The name raced through the rest of the hall, like fire rushing through a dry field. "De la Manse."
"Silence!" Lady Harriet screeched, stamping her stick on the floor the way she always did when her furious temper overcame her. She glared down at the frightened people of Maidenstone, stilling them with the force of her personality. There was not a one of them who hadn't borne the brunt of that temper at one time or another, and they all knew to heed her most carefully.
Excerpted from The Maiden Bride by Rexanne Becnel. Copyright © 1996 by Rexanne Becnel. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
"Rexanne Becnel combines heartfelt emotions with a romance that touches readers with the magic and joy of falling in love." Romantic Times
"A master medieval writer. Ms. Becnel writes emotional stories with a deft hand." The Time Machine
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed this book. The characters were lively and so much fun. Just could not put it down. I'll keep this in my library and read more of Rexanne's books.
I truly loved this book....so much that read it twice! I plan to read more of Ms Becnel's books.
Excellent plot & character development! Moving story, demonstrate conflict of emotions between H & h Loved to hate villains & secondary characters , ie brother Peter & his hound made story feel real ! So glad I found this author !
Loved this book
Yes, definitely passionate & sexually charged! Well developed characters that come alive. Not a bland romance story. The abused, younger twin, linnea at first seems like one who wilts under her mistreatment. But she proves herself when she stands up to axton, who is full of hate & only wants revenge against her family. There's love, hate, deception, & the sex scenes between linnea & axton as husband & wife are explosive! I'm going to read it again, slowly.
This book is soo good, it made me cry! Its one of those books that i know i will end up reading all over again. Hope more R.B. ebooks comes out from BN.